• 64°

Council to vote on municipal fee

If all goes as planned, Ironton City Council will decide the fate of a municipal fee Jan. 28.

An ordinance reestablishing the fee at $8 per month per household was given first and second readings at the Dec. 21, 2009, and Jan. 14, 2010, meetings.

“In order to maintain the budget, that fee is needed,” Mayor Rich Blankenship said.

The city needs the income in order to maintain the services it currently provides, he said.

“It’s very expensive to run a city,” Blankenship said, adding that he would work with whatever budget on which the council decides.

Besides maintaining the current services such as police, streets and fire protection, Blankenship said the fee would also be used to purchase new equipment for city departments.

“In order for our guys to do a good job they need to have the right equipment,” he said. Some of the needed equipment includes a roller to pave the streets. Police training, too, is a much-needed expense, he said.

“We want to maintain a level of police force,” he said. “We don’t have that many (officers) to cover the size of the city that we have,” he said.

Blankenship was on the city council in February 2006 when the original $8 fee passed by a 4-3 margin. He said the decision to implement the fee did not come easily.

“City council members are elected and paid to make difficult decisions and that’s one of them,” he said.

The council reestablished the fee Feb. 15, 2008. At that time, the measure was passed as an emergency and not discussed at previous council meetings.

Councilman Mike Lutz said he does not agree with the two-year time period for the fee that is written in the ordinance.

“I don’t want to redo it for two years,” he said. “It needs to be renewed for a shorter time period.”

Instead of the two-year time, the fee should be evaluated every six months to one year, he said. He argued that an analysis should be done, in the hope that the fee could be eliminated eventually.

Councilman Frank Murphy took an opposing view, saying that the time frame is fair. Under the current two-year term, council can vote on the measure and know that the fee will be there for them the following year as well, Murphy said.

“If we did it by the year, it doesn’t give us a chance to project,” he said.

In the event that the city’s tax base grows, the council has the option to repeal the fee at anytime, Murphy argued.

The municipal fee is a fair way to acquire funds from the city, he said.

“The city puts on a municipal fee to keep the city (from) operating in the red,” Murphy said. “It’s the fairest way that everyone in Ironton helps. (In most cases) It’s done by residence, not by water meter. It’s the fairest way.”

In the meantime before the council meets again next week, the finance committee will be looking at other ways to keep the budget balanced, Murphy said.

“I just hope the citizens of Ironton will be patient with us,” he said. “We are trying. We’re not wanting to increase the fees.”

Councilman Bob Cleary said he is opposed to the fee. Council should look at other ways to increase revenue before they resort to taxing the residents, he said.

When the measure original passed in 2006, Cleary supported it.

“Four years ago the city of Ironton was in dire straits,” Cleary explained. “It was a good thing at that time because we had to have some money. It gave city council a chance to kind of get by to where we could find other sources of revenue.”

But instead of seeking out other types of revenue, the city just spent the money, Cleary said.

When the ordinance was reestablished in 2008, Cleary voted against it.

Cleary said he has some ideas that he will present to council of how to increase revenue for the city so that the fee could at least be lowered.

“But just to rubber stamp it for another two years, no I’m not in favor of that,” Cleary said.

Until recently the council had also been discussing an ordinance that would repeal the tax credit currently provided to those who work outside the city limits in a municipality that require an income tax. The measure was tabled at the Jan. 14 meeting. Murphy, who made the motion to table the measure, said that doing so would give the council more time to come up with other solutions to the city’s financial problems.

The city stands to make about $400,000 if the reciprocity ordinance was enacted.

The municipal fee will expire by March 1. The city must have a final budget by that time as well, Blankenship said.

The city’s financial committee will meet Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. at the conference room in the city center.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 28.

Councilmen Kevin Waldo, David Frazer, Beth Rist, and Charles O’Leary could not be reached for comment.